Nobody wanted this film to be good as much as I did. I remember when the press release for it dropped, littered with all these massive names and my immediate instinct was to roll my eyes because we tried this already. Remember? Oceans 8? *sigh* But even in the ridiculous amount of apprehension that wasn’t appeased by the contents of the trailer, I wanted this film to be good. Because, women, right? Thank God it pulled through, I don’t think I could have handled another disappointment.
Hustlers, led expertly by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, is a story about how four women (and a few extras) managed to drug and scam wall street men for a living. All starting off as strippers who were left doing sex work for scraps following the financial crisis in 2008, Ramona (JLo) devices a scheme in which these women would essentially get rich men intoxicated enough to not notice when they signed a cheque, or card receipt for anywhere between $5-50,000 in a night. I too, would like to see it.
The film is told through a series of flashbacks from Dorothy’s (Constance) perspective who recants the tales of her relationship with Romana during an interview with journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). Ramona initially takes Dorothy under her wing and teaches her the ins and outs of what it really takes to rake it up as a stripper, from how to actually pole dance to a brief lesson from a colleague, Diamond (Cardi B, who is genuinely exceptional for all 2 minutes she’s on screen) on how to give a great lap dance by ‘draining the clock not the cock’. From these lessons, a rather beautiful friendship begins to form and it’s such a pleasure to watch. One thing to note is that this film is bloody hilarious; from Cardi’s brief cameo to Keke Palmer (give this girl her things already) effortlessly carrying the burden of comedic relief as Mercedes. I did not expect to actually chuckle out loud as much as I did but it became quickly apparent that director Lorene Scafaria chose a feel good tone with moments of depth over a more serious take on the subject.
The biggest strength the film has is the sheer skill the actors display as they authentically embody the roles of these women. Honestly the casting simply takes the cake.Constance becomes the pillar of emotion and depth to the film without so much as a fuss, continuously grounding the wildness of the story itself in real life repeatedly. And then there’s Jennifer Lopez who was just so convincing as the cool, calm and incredibly sexy Ramona, it felt as if I was just watching her. From the moment she steps into frame she’s completely in command, her posture, her stride & the chilling confidence with which she delivers each line has you both drooling and just wanting to learn. The audience is made to feel towards her exactly the way Dorothy clearly does. In complete awe.
Ramona is so convinced that what she’s doing is not only rational but actually okay, that she not only manages to convince Dorothy, Annabelle (played adorably by Lili Reinhert) and Mercedes of the fact, but you as well. Telling Dorothy that the money they’re stealing is technically already stolen because these ‘Wall Street assholes’ have never had to actually face any consequences for their own fraudulent actions. I genuinely find myself laughing at these unassuming men because it’s not our fault they let their penises do all the thinking. Now on the surface, this sounds really wrong. Because it is. But the movie ensures that you understand exactly why these women feel justified in their actions. Granted I did think they missed a lot of opportunities for extra depth in the name of keeping the movie light, you still catch a glimpse of the difficulty surrounding their circumstances, even if they’re always joking about it. I also wish the film as a whole was better paced, there was a lot of time hopping due to the way they chose to tell the story, and especially towards the end, it was hard to actually follow a lot of moments due to the choppy editing style. This made the few of the ending scenes, which could have held a lot more weight emotionally, feel rushed; they almost fell flat.
Overall, ‘Hustlers’ does a great job of depicting friendship between women born out of sheer necessity. You feel how much Dorothy needed Ramona and as much as she didn’t show it sometimes, Ramona needed Dorothy too. It doesn’t look down on these women or their lifestyle, but rather lets you in on how much work it actually takes to do what they do. Whenever something particularly crazy would happen, that would have you normally thinking “this is fucked up,” the film would remind you that you’re just not in their stilettos. From a standpoint of privilege it’s easy to say how absurd this all sounds, but as Dorothy pointed out, what you’d do for $1000 depends on whether or not you have a $1000 in the first place.